When the Los Angeles Lakers brought on president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka, cap space was a major priority.
Mozgov was in the second year of a four-year, $64 million deal and Los Angeles used Russell in order to get out of the former’s contract. The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft faced his fair share of issues with the Lakers but it was still a shocking move given he had only just wrapped up his second year in the league.
“I can’t imagine what they’re trying to block out,” Russell says. Later, he adds: “If [the Lakers] didn’t let me go then, they were gonna let me go now, and I’d be going through what they’re going through. Best thing that happened in my career.”
Russell has shined during the 2018-2019 NBA season as he is averaging 20.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. His elite level of play culminated in his first All-Star appearance and it is looking like a strong bet that he signs a lucrative extension soon.
Russell is an example of the risk a team takes when trading a young player in order to pursue All-Star players in free agency. While the Lakers ultimately signed LeBron James, it is fair to wonder whether or not letting go of Russell will come back to haunt them.
It is unfair to truly judge trading Russell until the Lakers utilize their cap space. If they are able to trade or sign a second All-Star player alongside James, then maybe it was the right decision by Johnson and Pelinka.